I wanted a Blue background.
Blue. No. Green, I said.
I may have even smiled as I handed my chosen color-splash brick wall pattern to the middle aged, balding photographer.
Like, a genuine smile.
Like, I think I had even imagined in my head the way our full class photo collection would look.
With me right in the middle of it. Against a blue spotlight in what seemed like a cartoon prisoner escape scene at a high-security compound.
The floodlight blasts on and catches me in the act right as I hit free dirt. I juke right. The light follows. I juke left. Same.
Ok, maybe I’ll take just one photo, while this beautiful backdrop is here. Cheese.
One of 30-odd charismatic convicts pausing to soak in the beaming pastel light.
Girls in pink and purple. Boys in Blue and Green.
I was a boy after all.
I still am.
I feel like the photographer knew that.
He cocked his head slightly as he analyzed my outfit.
“Nah,” he said.
“I feel like pink would be a better fit with that tank top. ’Cause there’s purple on it.”
He did have a point. I had to give him that.
I was the one that wore a tank top with the word ‘Volleyball’ artfully laid out in a purple Wile E. Coyote typeface. On picture day.
You know when you’re a kid and you don’t know anything?
I was so deeply entrenched in the idea that I knew nothing that whenever a grown-up disagreed with me I just sort of blacked out, my ears turned bright red and I continued in their new chosen direction for me.
I do remember the sensation of my ears yanking the corners of my mouth up into a smile as my dumb malleable brain was still processing what exactly was going on.
He’s a professional, my brain told me.
This is his job.
He knows what’s best. Does he know what’s best?
Wait, am I really getting a pink spotlight?
Hey. Hey. He snapped his fingers like I was a bulldog being shot for a dogfood campaign.
I trudged towards the gymnasium door.
Past the rest of my class. All waiting for their photos to be taken.
Their wonderfully gender-correct photos.
“Hmmm” my mom said when I handed her the packet of 9 million differently sized photos, perfect for any occasion.
“You can pick any frame you want,” my mom would be able to say to every member of our extended family, “and I’ve got the accurately sized, perfectly gay photo of my son for it.”
“Do you like these?” She asked.
I did not.
“Oh, this one’s nice,” she beamed as she pulled a large squeaky sheet out from the back of the pile.
It was the class photo spread. Spotted with little prisoners caught in the act.
Blue and Green and Pink and Purple.
Oscar looked pretty badass against blue. He always looked badass. Spiky hair.
Jake, with his stupid freckled face and his stupid red hair and his evil beady eyes really popped against green.
All the girls looked cute against pink and purple. Including me.
I stared at it like it was my Easter-themed death sentence.
That dumb goofy smile.
Those pronounced clavicle bones peeking out from the two strips of fabric barely holding this shirt on.
One of the sleeves was even draping every so slightly off my shoulder in a ‘Come hither and punch the shit out of me’ kinda way.
Set squarely against a pink brick wall, I had somehow turned something so gay into something so much gayer.
This wasn’t going to go over well with the cool kids.
I immediately, unequivocally accepted that reality.
“I have so many sheets of these photos” my mom said as she handed me one of them over dinner 15 years later.
I’d been searching for this photo for so long because it was emblazoned in my brain and I wanted to see if it really was as bad as I remembered it.
“Jeez, that’s quite a photo,” she said through a laugh as she watched me accepting this reality all over again.
“You must have gotten teased at school for that.”
I blinked hard and my ears went bright red.